The Sunday Leader

The Beautiful Port City of Trincomalee

By Lakshman Indranath Keerthisinghe - Attorney-at-Law

After checking in to Chaya Blue Resort, from our balcony, we watched the glorious sight of the scarlet sun accompanied by a blanket of streaks of orange clouds setting over the distant yellowish horizon as the blue waters of the lovely Indian Ocean lapped on the golden beaches of the beautiful port city of Trincomalee. As Lord Byron aptly described it, the music created by the roar of the waves and the rustling of the leaves on the coconut trees, was most soothing to our ears resulting in great relaxation of the mind. A comforting sea breeze caressed our bodies as we sat on the balcony. Thank God for the wondrous beauty of nature far away from the hustle and bustle of the City. A lone fisherman’s boat was paddling towards the beach after a hard day’s fishing tour and the holiday makers were strolling on the beach, while some were splashing around in the clear cool waters of the swimming pool below us. As Gentleman Jim sang what a wonderful world it is.
Trincomalee, is an anglicized form of the Tamil word “Tiru-kona-malai”, meaning “Lord of the Sacred Hill”; a reference to the town’s ancient Koneswaran Temple. Thiru comes from the Tamil for “sacred”, Kona means “Lord” or “Chief” in the language while Malai in Tamil means mountain or hill. Another meaning for the word Kona in Tamil is peak, and other definitions for Tirukonamalai include “sacred angular/peaked hill” or “three peaked hill”. The town is situated on a hill at the end of a natural land formation that resembles an arc; the temple itself is built on Swami Rock, historically referred to as Kona-ma-malai, a cliff on the peninsula that drops 400 feet (120 metres) directly into the sea. It is a port city in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka and lies on the east coast of the island, about 113 miles south of Jaffna. It has a population of approximately 100,000 (2007).The city is built on a peninsula, which divides the inner and outer harbours. Overlooking the Kottiyar Bay, Trincomalee is one of the main centers of Tamil speaking culture in Sri Lanka. People belonging to all races including the Tamil, Muslim  and Sinhala communities in Trincomalee live in absolute harmony and mutual respect. The city has been a sea port that has played a major role in the maritime and international trading history of Sri Lanka.
It is referred to as Gokanna in Pali or Gokarna in Sanskrit. The Bay of Trincomalee’s harbour is renowned for its large size and security; unlike every other in the Indian Ocean, it is accessible to all types of craft in all weathers. The beaches are used for surfing, scuba diving fishing and whale watching. The city also has the largest Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. It is home to major Sri Lankan Naval base and an Air Force Base. The entrance to the roadway leading to Koneswaram is actually the entrance to what used to be Fort Frederick. The fort was built in 1623 by the Portuguese and captured in 1639 by the Dutch. It then went through a phase of dismantling and reconstruction and was attacked and captured by the French in 1672. Trincomalee which is a natural deep-water harbour that has attracted seafarers like Marco Polo, Ptolemy and Sea Traders from China and East Asia since ancient times. Trinco, as it is commonly called, has been a sea port since the days of the ancient Sri Lankan Kings. The earliest known reference to the port of Gokanna is found in the Mahawamsa stating that in 5th century BC, when King Vijaya who having failed to convince his brother to come to Sri Lanka as his successor, got down his youngest son Panduvasdeva, who landed at Gokanna and was subsequently enthroned at Upatissagama. King Parakramabahu used Gokanna (Trincomalee) as his eastern port, to launch a successful invasion of Burma in the 12th Century.
By the late 16th century, Jaffna had given minimal logistical access to its Trincomalee and Batticaloa seaports to Kandy to secure military advantages against its enemies; this was utilized by their influential European overlords to consolidate power in the region. In 1612, D. Hieronymo de Azevedo, after great difficulties due to torrential rains arrived at Trincomalee with a Portuguese contingent from Kandy. Here de Azevedo was keen on building a fort.The Danish arrived in Trincomalee to the end of 1619 with a first ship, called “Øresund” under the command of Roelant Crape, this small expedition, was the vanguard of another Danish fleet, this one composed by four vessels and three hundred soldiers, commanded by Ove Giedde, that reached the island in May 1620. They wanted to try their fortune in the Asian seas; the Danish expedition occupied Koneswaram temple and it was here that the Danes began the works for the fortification of the peninsula. In the year 1619, upon the Portuguese conquest, all the territory of the kingdom of Jaffna, comprised Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Trincomalee had a Portuguese force during the reign of Kandyan King Rajasinghe II. Rajasinghe finally ended with an alliance with Dutch and the Dutch invaded Kottyar Bay Fort as their first attack. The fall of the Kottyar Bay Fort was the first nail in the Portuguese coffin. An English sea captain and historical chronicle writer named Robert Knox came ashore by chance near Trincomalee and surrendered to the Dissawa (official) of the King of Kandy in 1659. Trincomalee was occupied by the Dutch, and subsequently by French alternately, until the capture of the fort there by the British in 1795. Trincomalee was the first land to be captured by the British who fought and defeated the Dutch, who did not want to surrender Ceylon as directed by the Prince of Orange, who took refuge in London after being defeated by the French republicans under Napoleon. As such,Trincomalee has served as an entrance to a western invader from Calcutta.(Wikepedia)
On January 8, 1782 the British captured the fort but the French recaptured it on August 29 of the same year. In 1783 the French ceded it to the British and subsequently Britain ceded it to the Dutch. In 1795 the British recaptured and held it until Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. The importance of Fort Fredrick was due to Trincomalee’s natural harbour.Trincomalee’s strategic importance has shaped its recent history.
The great European powers vied for mastery of the harbour. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the English, each held it in turn, and there have been many sea battles nearby. Prior to the Second World War the British had built a large airfield to house a permanent RAF base, RAF China Bay and a fuel storage and support facilities for the Royal Navy and HMS Highflyer naval base based there. After the fall of Singapore, Trincomalee became the home port of the Eaastern Fleet of the Royal Navy, and submarines of the Dutch Navy. Until 1957, Trincomalee was an important base for the Royal Navy and was home to many British people who were employed by the British Admiralty. One of the places inhabited by the British was Fort Fredrick which is now occupied by the Sri Lankan Army. Some of the old buildings in the fort were used as residences, including one previously occupied by The Duke of Wellington. In the early 1950s The British Government built groups of bungalows within the Fort specifically for their employees. These bungalows still exist and provide accommodation for soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army. One of the groups of bungalows was named Edinburgh Terrace. Children of the British residents attended a Royal Naval School which was part of the Naval Base. The naval and air bases were take over by Sri Lanka in 1957, today SLNS Tissa and SLN Dockyard are used by the Sri Lankan Navy while the Sri Lankan Air Force is based at SLAF China Bay. The Sri Lanka Army has its Security Headquarters-East in Trincomalee. Trincomalee War Cemetery, is one of the six commonwealth war cemeteries in Sri Lanka. The Navy Base is home to a naval museum called The Hoods Tower Museum.The name of the museum refers to a watchtower built on a hill commanding a 360-degree view of the harbour and the bay.
Trincomalee is on the eastern end of the A6 and A 12 highways in Sri Lanka, as well as the northern end of the A 15.The city is also served by Sri Lanka Railways. Trincomalee Railway Station is the terminus of Trincomalee-bound services from Colombo Fort. The harbour, the fifth largest natural harbour in the world, is overlooked by terraced highlands, its entrance is guarded by two headlands, and there is a carriage road along its northern and eastern edges. Trincomalee has some of the most picturesque and scenic beaches found in Sri Lanka, relatively unspoilt and clean. Nilaweli is a favourite beach among holidaymakers due to its beauty. The area is famous for bathing and swimming, owing to the relative shallowness of the sea, allowing one to walk out over a hundred meters into the sea without the water reaching the chest. Whale watching is a common pastime in the seas off Trincomalee, and successful sightings are on the rise with the increase of tourism in the area.
There are the seven hot springs of Kanniya (Kal = stone; niya = land), on the road to Trincomalee. A high wall bounds the rectangular enclosure which includes all seven springs. Each is in turn enclosed by a dwarf wall to form a well. The water is warm, the temperature of each spring being slightly different. The use of the springs for bathing is controlled by the neighbouring Mari Amman Kovil, who holds the lease of the wells. Trincomalee’s location, in a less well developed and sparsely populated area, has in the past hampered its own development. Nevertheless plans are under way to develop the beautiful port city of Trincomalee as a commercial seaport and a popular tourist destination.

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